Freshman year of college brings a whirlwind of new challenges — moving out, meeting new people and having to take care of yourself. These lifestyle changes coincide with new academic challenges as well. While high schools generally claims to prepare students for the rigor of college, many students may find the academic transition quite difficult. To ease this burden on first-year students and better prepare them for more advanced courses, introductory classes across UT’s colleges should have standardized curricula.
One of the most enriching experiences I’ve had so far in college has been my introductory chemistry class. Like all freshman College of Natural Sciences students, I had heard horror stories from upperclassmen about general chemistry. These anecdotes weighed heavily on my mind when I entered Stacy Sparks’ Chemistry 301, my very first college class. I entered class unsure of myself and anxious about my abilities, but I left feeling like I could take on whatever hurdles chemistry threw at me in the future.
This isn’t to say chemistry is easy — there were many times I felt completely lost. But the introductory chemistry sequence provided us with so many resources and tools that everybody, regardless of their learning style, found some way to master the material. A uniform curriculum across all sections of CH 301 widely increased the number of resources we could access.
“One of the biggest benefits for students is that we’re covering the same topics at the same time, so students can go to any instructor’s office hours for help,” chemistry professor Brian Anderson said.
Currently, CH 302 offers about 20 cumulative hours of office hours and review sessions every week across all instructors and TAs teaching the course, making it easier for students to find time in their diverse schedules to seek out extra help if they need it.
“Having a standardized curriculum has been helpful because I can benefit from information from other professors, general tutoring and reviews,” public health freshman Rylee Morris said. Additionally, a standardized curriculum encourages collaboration between students in different classes. Students can help their classmates understand information by explaining it to them in a different way.
This sort of curriculum standardization could better prepare students in all colleges across campus for their upper division classes down the line.
“I took micro(economics) for my major and it was completely different from professor to professor,” business freshman Valeria Garcia said. This makes her worry about the next sequence of classes she has to take. “The professor might say like, ‘Chapters 1-2 are review and you should have learned all of this before,’ and I don’t know if (everyone) has already had that training,” Garcia said.
Chemistry professor Stacy Sparks says this is one advantage of a standardized curriculum.
“Subsequent course instructors know what they can expect students to have learned in CH 301 or CH 302,” Sparks said. ”Similarly, students all have the opportunity to be equally prepared for subsequent courses.”
Professors in all colleges and schools should strongly consider working with their colleagues to create lesson plans that address the same topics across all sections of the same introductory class. This doesn’t have to be at the expense of the topics they are passionate about; in fact, the chemistry curriculum builds in entire class periods for professors to discuss their academic interests with their students. Such a feat would take patience, collaboration and flexibility, but as Sparks said, the advantage to students should be “worth the time.”
Dasgupta is a neuroscience freshman from Plano, Texas.